The High Holidays are upon us. In a few days, we will gather to hear the shofar blow. We will contemplate the year we are leaving behind (Baruch Hashem!) and the year that is unfolding. May it be a sweet and healthy new year for all!
Today, I have been busy baking challah— punching out air bubbles from the soft dough, smoothing the edges, and rolling out long ropes that will form the traditional crown for Rosh Hashanah. Baking my own challah is a new talent I’ve incorporated into my repertoire (thank you @JamieGeller). I’m more known for my sweet brisket and potato knishes. I also am proud of my honey lekach and apple strudel. So many traditions! My parents were not “religious,” but they passed down enough yiddishkeyt to impress upon me the importance of staying connected to our roots.
My heritage—like so many of us—is a mishmash of cultures. My grandparents were children when they immigrated from Imperial Russia to Argentina. And like so many other rusos, their food, their music, and their prayers were influenced by the local community. But these Argentine Jews were resilient! Their impact on society can’t be denied. Their influence is still felt today.
So, what is yiddishkeyt? Look up the word on the Internet. The first definition is simply: “Jewishness.” To me, the word is about the phenomenon of taking something ordinary or commonplace and incorporating a bit Jewish quality or custom into the mix. OK, so now you ask: what does porteño mean? This refers to a person from the port city of Buenos Aires, but it also can be a local tradition or cultural way of doing things. I could also write about doing a gauchada or making something criollo, but that’s another post. The point is that immigrants from various nations brought their ingenuity to their new country. For example, Italian food has long dominated Argentine cuisine. Another Italian creation is fileteado, an art form that has become synonymous with Buenos Aires (see example below). Suffice it to say that Argentines crave their Argentinismos, just like Jews crave yiddishkeit. The rusos took their Ashkenazi faith, culture, literature, theater, and film, gave them a local flair, and yiddishkeyt porteño was born!
Immigrants fleeing pogroms and persecution arrived to their new country and were soon expected to assimilate to their adoptive land. They learned to drink mate and to sing the songs of the pampas.
They were taught Argentine history and the national anthem. And when they slowly began to acclimate, these Jewish gauchos built schools, hospitals and charitable organizations. They printed newspapers, wrote novels, and staged theatrical performances.
They learned to sow wheat and corn and sunflowers too —it reminded them of their homeland. And for their efforts, they reaped doctors, lawyers, teachers and philosophers. They watched their children grow strong amongst the fertile land and new-found freedom, and waved them off as they left the inner provinces for Buenos Aires.
As I separate a piece of challah and say the appropriate prayers, it fills me with a sense of connection and a sense of peace. I think of those that came before me and know that I stand on the shoulders of some remarkable people. My ancestors brought knishes and kugel and sweet wine to make kiddush on the pampas. They wished their neighbors a gut shabbos and buen provecho. I wish you the same as well. Until next time…
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Work in Progress: Celestial Persuasion. You can read about it here.
I’m getting closer to Publishing Day and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the mean time, please take a minute to watch this short trailer. The painting of Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson was the inspiration for the entire project. Please enjoy!
Coming soon! Celestial Persuasion on Amazon.
Abigail Isaacs fears ever again falling under the power of love and dedicates her life to studying the heavens. However, upon her father’s demise she finds herself in reduced circumstances and must write to her brother, who has long been away at sea. When instead Captain Wentworth of the HMS Laconia sends a tragic reply, Abigail is asked to set aside her own ambitions and fulfill her brother’s dreams in the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata.
In his relentless pursuit for justice, Lieutenant Raphael Gabay lends his sword to the Spanish American cause. But as he prepares to set sail with the others, he is entrusted with the care of a young woman. She is quite unlike anyone he has ever known, and Raphael wonders whether the brilliant astronomer will see beyond his frivolous façade and recognize his true nature.
Their destinies have been plotted beyond the celestial veil; their charts foretell of adventure. Can these two troubled souls be persuaded to heed the stars and find love—and their purpose—in this fledgling nation?
After nearly a year, I am happy to announce I’ve completed the first draft of my latest novel. Of course, that only opens the door for the various re-writes, alpha reads, beta reads, etc. In other words, the hard part is yet to come! In the meantime, I want to share the inspiration for this novel. The book is currently entitled, Celestial Persuasion and I hope it can be accepted as a prequel to Persuasion in the hearts and minds of my fellow “Janeites.” But it is much more than that! Allow me then to introduce a few key historical figures that were the impetus for my novel.
It is interesting to note, England was at war almost continually throughout Jane Austen’s lifetime. Most Regency fans are familiar with the Napoleonic Wars and the impact on the Austen family and to her fictional characters. For the most part, these battles and engagements remained on the Continent, with brief mentions of the West Indies and the Caribbean. I’m going to take you further south, all the way to South America; and in particular, to the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata. Today, it’s known as the Republic of Argentina.
Though it was a Spanish colony, the English were very much a part of the area’s growth. From whalers and farmers, to engineers, bankers, and second sons, they journeyed to the Viceroyalty to make their fortunes on the pampas. Things got a little heated, however, when in 1806 and again in 1807, the English decided to invade the territory. Remember, England’s resources had been spread thin, what with those pesky American colonists, not to mention the French. They needed to expand their reach to fill the Crown’s emptying coffers. In the Viceroyalty, the criollos (those born in the New World but of European ancestry) were contemplating their freedom—much like their brethren up north had done—when the English decided to attack. Needless to say, the Redcoats were not successful, having been repulsed by a ragtag colonial militia. The criollos’ victory against a great European power only helped to increase their confidence, and sparked a wave of patriotism and pride.
Now, across the pond, the officers suffered tremendous embarrassment for not being able to hold the line. Sir Home Popham, for example, had captured Buenos Aires and tried to impose an oath of loyalty, but the citizens refused to obey. They locals fought and took back their city and General Beresford had to surrender. A few months later, more troops were sent to engage the Spanish colony, but found themselves fighting in the streets and having to negotiate an evacuation! Their shame was complete. Jane Austen, however, had compassion for their efforts and in a letter dated 1807, we find a poem penned by her own hand.
ON SIR HOME POPHAM’S SENTENCE, APRIL 1807
Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean,
A gallant commander the victim is seen.
For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand,
Condemn’d to receive a severe reprimand!
To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate:
That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late,
It is understandable that Austen would be sympathetic to the officer; she had two brothers in the Navy and would, naturally, support the cause. Nonetheless, there was a large population of English living in the Viceroyalty, many of them had married and had raised their families in the New World. They did not support the English invasion, nor did they support the Spanish crown. In 1807, Napoleon had invaded Spain and the king had been removed from power. The criollos, living an ocean away, believed they had the right to govern themselves until the lawful king was restored to the throne. In January 1809, Napoleon crowned his brother, Joseph, as King of Spain. This act was the perfect excuse for secession and here enter our players: Jose San Martín, Lord Fife and Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson.
If you have read this far, I thank you! I realize that I am passionate about things that put most people to sleep; but once I realized that San Martín was in England, collaborating with Lord Fife, Sir Charles Stuart and host of other aristocrats, I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. And when I discovered Mariquita Sanchez, I knew I had the makings of a wonderful story. Captain Wentworth was an easy choice and I proceeded to create the characters of Abigail and Jonathan Isaacs to bond the entire project together.
I decided to place my fictional family in the town of Exeter, located in the historic county of Devon. Exeter worked well with my storyline because it is adjacent to Austen’s fictional Barton Cottage, as well as the Great House of Uppercross (if you’re a Janeite, you’ll understand). And more importantly, I wanted to place my fictional country doctor and his family among a small Jewish community in Southwestern England. Did you know there has been such a community in Exeter since medieval times? They were expelled in 1290, but were allowed to return and rebuild by the mid-1700s. The synagogue, built in 1763, is the third oldest existing synagogue in the United Kingdom and the second oldest Ashkenazi Synagogue in the English-speaking world (Plymouth Synagogue was built in 1762). Rabbi Moses Horwitz was the leader of the community from 1792-1837. One of the town’s more renown citizens, and founder of the Jewish congregation, was Abraham Ezekiel. He was described as a silversmith, engraver in general, optician, goldsmith and print-seller; and “for fifty years and upwards, a respectable tradesman of Exeter.” By 1796, five other Jewish citizens had shops in the fashionable shopping area of town, sufficiently well established as to warrant inclusion in the Exeter Pocket Journal. And so, I placed Doctor Simon Isaacs, widower, in this charming locality along with his children, Jonathan and Abigail Isaacs.
I will sign off with an excerpt from the W.I.P. (Work in Progress) in the hopes that it will tempt you!
Captain Wentworth returned to his ship, and nary a crewman offered more than a silent salute as the ship’s commander stormed to his quarters. Every man, from first lieutenant to cabin boy and everyone in between, had seen that look of their captain’s face before. They knew better than to engage him when he was clearly consumed with a task that required his full attention. He crossed the upper deck and descended the companionway before briefly saluting the marine sentry posted at his door. Cursing, he threw his hat across the room and roughly removed his coat. Normally controlled and reserved, the captain allowed himself a moment to release his frustration. Truth be told, he was more than frustrated. He was angry. Angry with Captain Lawrence for his abject abuse of power. Angry with the Admiralty for turning a blind eye to rogue and lawless officers. Angry with the helpless situations in which young women found themselves when their menfolk failed to respect their intellect and resolve. He could not help himself and thought of Anne again. Would the pain ever subside? Would he be able to set aside the rejection and rally again?
Throwing himself into his chair, uncharacteristically without ceremony or care, Captain Wentworth grimaced at the task before him. He must write to Isaacs’ sister. He—of all men—would have to lay out a new trajectory and pray she would comply. The captain reached for a nearby bottle of claret and poured the ruby liquid into a crystal glass. He swilled the contents down in one gulp, feeling only the burning sensation as it glided down his throat. The feeling was welcome. Considering what was required of him now left a worse taste in his mouth than the fiery wine. Captain Wentworth could not scruple that he was now in the position of having to persuade a young lady in the course of her life. Of all things, he despised the thought of manipulating someone by playing on their respect of his rank and command. And again, he thought of Anne. She too had been young and naïve of the ways of the world, and allowed someone she trusted to guide her. To guide her in such a way as to lead her away from him.
He took another swallow of courage and thought now of Miss Abigail Isaacs. Throughout their friendship and time at sea, Jonathan had provided some of the essentials—she seemed quite unlike other young ladies. But, then again, were not all young ladies easily persuaded?
12th of August, 1811
I take pen in hand to inform you that I am in receipt of your letters, both the one you had so wisely addressed to my attention and the one intended for your brother. It grieves me to relay this information. It is a task no commander ever wishes to undertake; and knowing that you have recently lost your father, this will be a harder blow than any young lady should have to bear. With all my heart and soul, I would wish to spare you this intelligence; however, Isaacs—that is to say, Jonathan—always spoke so highly of his sister, that I take courage in knowing your strength will allow you to rally. Your dear brother, and my good friend, will not be returning home. He has completed his service to the Crown and distinguished himself with great honor. You may hold your head high. Jonathan Isaacs is, and will always be, thought of as the best of men. These are trying times, Miss Isaacs. Wars seem to be never ending, and a grateful nation asks much of the families that are left behind to wonder, to pray, and to grieve. I hope that you have family and friends to help you through these dark and troubled waters; but until you find yourself tranquil once more, pray allow me to guide you to a safe harbor. Your brother charged me to relay some instructions, and I am only too honored to fulfill my promise expeditiously and with great care.
It was your brother’s greatest wish that you meet Lord Fife. You may be unaware of the relationship, but your father and his lordship were friends and business partners. At your father’s bidding, Jonathan was introduced to the earl when he was at university at Edinburgh. Please make whatever arrangements are necessary to travel to London at once. You are expected, Miss Isaacs, and can rest assured that accommodations will be at your disposal with the earl’s compliments. His lordship is making his townhouse available to you and will, naturally, stay at his club for the duration of your visit. I cannot say this more succinctly, madam: Jonathan was most adamant in his declaration and has entrusted your wellbeing to Lord Fife.
I can well imagine your present state of mind. Please forgive my impertinence, but having learned much of your homelife, I feel quite part of the family. The Bible tells us to build our lives upon the stable rock that is God’s love, wisdom, and salvation. I would humbly add to that. My own brother, the Reverend Edward Wentworth, has been the rock in my life. I know what Jonathan has meant to you, as he has told me much of your childhood together. To be sure, I know you are a talented mathematician and astronomer, and that these accomplishments were brought about by hours and hours of your brother’s loving dedication to the betterment of your brilliant mind. I know, too, that you were quite put out and displayed righteous indignation when you were prohibited—at the age of nine or ten— to accompany your brother to university. Pray, do not be vexed with Jonathan for relaying this intelligence. It was one of his cherished memories of his most beloved sister. Jonathan treasured this time spent together, learning and discovering all matter of things. He also spoke of the influences of many of your sex, giants in their fields of expertise. I, myself, had no knowledge of their greatness and readily admitted my ignorance of such feminine luminaries.
Because of these intimate conversations with your brother, I feel that I have been given leave to speak to you thusly. These brilliant women, of whom Jonathan spoke, had shown great courage in forging ahead in worlds that denied their very existence. I am now obligated to help you navigate the trajectory that the stars have so clearly outlined. As the Bible tells us, Miss Isaacs: Be strong and of good courage! I entreat you to make haste and communicate with Lord Fife as soon as you are able.
Captain Frederick Wentworth
I hope you enjoyed the post. I am currently seeking one or two alpha-readers; so if you are interested, please let me know!
Argentina—the word conjures up images of fiery gauchos and romantic tangueros…or is it romantic gauchos and fiery tangueros? If your travel agent suggested this country as your next vacation destination, what would come to mind? Based on my experiences, most people respond with the Broadway song, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. They think of crazed soccer players, or worse yet, they imagine a country overrun by escaped Nazis. I have another image; but mine is painted by a refined hand, a landscape of multiple layers of color, shadows, and dimension. You see, although Argentina is my native country; it is not my ancestral home. I’m the granddaughter of Russian immigrants—Jews fleeing the pogroms and chaos prior to the Revolution.
My Argentine travel blog would not showcase the exquisite architecture inspired by the French. Museums, theaters, cultural and government centers abound. There’s no particular need for me to point them out. I wouldn’t speak of the British influence on such things as finger sandwiches, polo or afternoon tea. Neither would I speak of how the Brits constructed the nation’s first railroad system. I wouldn’t ramble on about the grass-fed cattle or the mouthwatering cuisine heavily influenced by the Italians. I wouldn’t point out that you could visit prairies, jungles, deserts, glaciers or the majestic Iguazú Falls—larger and wider than Niagara and far more breathtaking. I understand…you want to know about all these things. You want to know about gauchos and hear about the Paris of South America, with its sensual nights of dancing tango and drinking Malbec; but in my world; Argentina is about drinking maté and eating potato knishes in my bobe’s house. Yes, I said my bobe’s house (not bubbe).
Jews in Argentina? They went there during WWII, right? No! Although there has been a Jewish community in South America since the time of Cristobal Colon (that’s Christopher Columbus), significant number of Jews began arriving towards the end of the 19th century. You are familiar with the exodus from Eastern Europe into the United States, but did you know that thousands upon thousands found their “New Jerusalem” in Argentina? Facilitated by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the Jewish Colonization Association was created on September 11, 1891 with the intention of evacuating persecuted Jews from Imperial Russia. The J.C.A. worked in collaboration with the Argentine government by placing the immigrants in agricultural colonies throughout the rich, untapped land of the newly founded nation.
In Entre Ríos, there were over seventeen colonies, including Basavilbaso (Lucienville), Clara, Pedernal, and Villa Domínguez. In the province of Buenos Aires, there was Colonia Lapin, Carlos Casares and Rivera to name a few. Santa Fe was home of the most famous colony Moises Ville. Bernasconi (Narcisse Levin) was located in the province of La Pampa; and in the northern tip of the country, was Colonia Dora in Santiago del Estero.
Sembramos trigo y cosechamos doctores
We sow wheat and we reap doctors—that was the famous saying among the pioneers who toiled on the pampas, but birthed a new and hopeful generation of engineers, scientists, teachers and entrepreneurs.
La colectividad—the Jewish community in Argentina—is second only to the United States and it thanks to these unsung heroes, these Jewish gauchos. The colonists organized agricultural co-operatives. They built libraries, hospital, and charitable organizations. They built schools for their children to study both secular and religious programs. They built athletic organizations and impressive country clubs where families met for networking and socializing, challenging the most popular clubs of the American Borscht Belt. Their aspirations and achievements need to be heralded. Oh, and by the way, you would be remiss to think that these immigrants were all illiterate, wretched and downtrodden. Among their numbers were people of means and consequence who contributed not only their knowledge and funds, but a hearty spirit of perseverance and hope!
Not wanting to be accused of having a revisionist view of history, I can’t neglect to mention the hardships, the anti-Semitism and outright evil that Argentine Jews faced. And sometimes, it was at the hands of their own people.
A Polish organized crime group, the Zwi Migdal, established a holding in Buenos Aires as early as 1860. Their sole purpose was the trafficking of Central European Jewish women into forced prostitution. The organization was legally registered as the Warsaw Jewish Mutual Aid Society and they lured the women from their homes and families by promising a fresh start in a new country, away from economic strife and persecution. Desperate and hopeless, parents would send their daughters away thinking that they would be settled in proper Jewish homes as servants or taught some useful skill in a country that was at the cusp of becoming a leading nation. Often times, the harsh realities of their new lives began as soon as they boarded the ship.
In January 1919, for the duration of an entire “tragic week” (Semana Trágica), the Jewish community in Buenos Aires experienced a pogrom—physical violence and destruction of property on par with what many had experienced in the old country. At the time, the United States embassy reported that 1,500 people were killed, “mostly Russians and generally Jews.”
During the “Dirty War” era of 1976-1983, disproportionate numbers of Jewish students and professionals were victimized, kidnapped, tortured, or were simply made to “disappear” as a hard-right military regime attempted to control left-wing extremists fighting to create a Marxist stronghold.
In the 1990’s, both the Israeli embassy and the A.M.I.A. (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) buildings were bombed—allegedly by Hezbollah.
When I would ask my grandparents about the anti-Semitism they would say, “Yes, it exists, but we don’t allow it to define us.” Argentine Jews faced stifling and horrific events—comparable to what was experienced in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe—nonetheless in many, important ways, their adopted country did indeed prove to be their “New Jerusalem.” There was heartache and hardship, of course, but my grandparents impressed upon me that there was no time to cry. They were too busy getting on with the business of living!
Admit it…you know the song. You’ve seen the play. Eva Peron is standing on the balcony of the Casa Rosada, arms stretched out—aching to embrace her enamored, spell-bound followers. But Argentina is more than the infamous—villainous—Perons. Argentina is more than futbol and Messi. Argentina is more than the guerilla leader, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. To me, Argentina is where my ancestors found their refuge. It is where knishes and empanadas shared a table. It is where the sweet sounds of the klezmer’s clarinet combined with the gaucho’s guitar; and later, the tanguero’s bandoneón. That is my Argentina and I want to share it with you.
Too often, we think of Russian Jews and imagine Tevye and his cohorts in Anetevka. There is nothing wrong with that—Sholem Aleichem was a beloved and brilliant teller of tales. I simply want to add to that narrative. Take the story of the Jewish gaucho and that romantic tanguero into your heart. Set them alongside the stories of Tevye and yourown ancestors, but remember: Do not cry!
An excerpt from Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey
Having traveled several miles deep in her own thoughts, Leah suddenly realized that the chatter and excitement, stemming from both the children and the adults, had decreased significantly. Turning her head ever so slightly to the right and then to the left, Leah witnessed the cause for the abrupt change in her family’s emotions. Lonely homesteads spotted the terrain. Farmland and open range was all one could see.
As if he could read their minds, Yosef called out from the head wagon. Cupping his hands around his lips, so that his voice would travel down the line he exclaimed, “Remember—we are free to come and go as we please. This is not the Pale of Settlement and there are no inspectors, revizors, or Okhrana!”
At that precise moment, Leah found Yosef’s astute observation very small comfort, indeed. Slow and steady, the oxen ambled on for what seemed an eternity before señor Lipinsky held up his hand, signaling the drivers to come to a stop. They had arrived.
The Abramovitz men jumped off the wagons and handed down the women and children. Dismayed, they stood solemnly in place and quietly took in their surroundings. A dilapidated wooden fence, in dire need of sanding and a new coat of paint, marked the property. As señor Lipinsky had promised, the lot and the dwelling appeared somewhat larger than those seen on the previous homesteads. León Goldfarb had mentioned that they would most likely have a cabin or a cottage, depending on their luck, along with a small barn and granary. His assumption had been correct.
“I cannot believe that we trekked across Mother Russia through Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean to end up here—to live like krepostnyye!” Naftali bellowed.
“We are not serfs, Brother. We will work the land for our own benefit—not for some nobleman,” replied Yosef. “And we will live in peace.”
“We might as well have gone to Siberia,” was Yaacov’s grim reply. “We are in the middle of nowhere.”
“‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill!’” Ysroel recited. “‘For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death’—does that sound familiar? We have not yet been here one full day!” exclaimed the pious brother. “Where is your faith?”
Malka nodded her agreement. “It is quite fitting that you quote Exodus, my son, for are we not the epitome of Israelites wandering in the desert? But the Lord will provide—of that I am sure!”
Señor Lipinsky cleared his throat and the men turned towards the agent. Aware that the Abramovitz family had begun their odyssey with a different plan in mind, he did not begrudge them their displeasure. He could only imagine the life they had led in Odessa in the upper stratums of Jewish society. It was quite a different scenario than the vast majority of colonists, but not completely unheard of. The agronomic engineer, Miguel Sajaroff and his brother-in-law, Doctor Noé Yarcho, were both learned men of means—certainly known and admired among the colonists. They, too, had come from rather illustrious origins.
Señor Lipinsky gently reminded the family that they were on the outskirts of town but, there wasindeed a thriving town–a Jewish town. The children would be required to attend public school in the morning; but the town was proud to boast of their own cheder, where Yiddish and religious studies were taught in the afternoons. The community had shops, a synagogue, a cemetery and a social hall. They would soon meet their neighbors and establish friendships with the criollos and the yiden alike.
“We—the Argentines and the Jews—live together in peace,” he said. “God has made it possible for us to make a good life here.”
“Of course, señor Lipinsky and we will do the same—may it be Hashem’s will,” replied Malka, as she turned and took in the full view of their new land. “Are these fruit trees? The orchard seems to have been abandoned, but with some work, we will have a bountiful harvest next year. This reminds me of when I was a child. It will be good for the kinder to get their hands into the dirt.”
“You most likely will find peach and plum trees. At home, we also have mango,” the land agent boasted.
“What is a mango?” Duvid asked. “May I try one?”
Señor Lipinsky laughed. “Yes, of course boychik! When you taste it, you will think it is a slice of heaven. Sweet and tangy, it is like biting into a peach and an orange at the same time.”
“Come now, children,” Malka said, as she marched to the door. “Let us enter our new home with uplifted spirits and gratitude in our hearts.”
With their mother and señor Lipinsky leading the way, the Abramovitz clan followed suit. Leah trailed behind. She willed herself not to turn around, but curiosity overruled. The gauchos were still there—hewas still there.
From atop his steed, El Moro removed his hat once more, and placed it over his heart. Knowing she owed him apology, she sunk into a deep curtsey, as if he were the Tsar himself. He laughed, not in a disparaging fashion, but with full appreciation of her good sportsmanship. He let out a triumphant holler, as the men turned their horses and raced away. Feeling herself blush, Leah laughed as well and quickly caught up with the family now entering their new lodgings.
Her mother, having removed her hat and gloves, was inspecting the building, which could not be compared to anything but the gardener’s cabin back home. Leah could see her mamá’s mind at work. She could only imagine the list of duties that soon would be imparted to each and every one. When she heard her mother speaking of chemical compounds, Leah began to understand the true magnitude of the undertaking.
“I will need a fair amount of the product, if we are to paint these walls and the fruit trees,” Malka informed the J.C.A. agent.
“Yes, of course,” Lipinsky replied, agreeing with the fine lady’s assessment. Many of the colonists applied whitewash to the trees in order to prevent sun scorching.
“My father was known to paint the entire tree trunk, not just the bottom portion, as he insisted that it kept the tree from blooming prematurely.”
“We are going to paint the trees?” Duvid asked.
“Yes, as well as the house,” said Malka. “If we can purchase a bit of blue dye—perhaps a local laundress might have a decent supply—we can color the calcimine and end up with a lovely shade of pale blue.”
“Lovely. It will be our very own Winter Palace,” added Leah in jest. Having only known the luxury of living on a grand estate, she hadn’t a clue of the benefits of whitewashing; and although she had enjoyed her lessons with watercolors, the idea of washing the grimy stone walls sounded exhausting. Noting the sarcasm in her own voice, Leah winced and waited for the certain rebuke. When none came, she decided it was in her best interest to pay attention to her mamá.
“We will cover the walls with this compound several times a year, my dears, for the coating has hygienic properties. Once we have added successive applications, layers of scale will build up on the roughhewn walls, and the flakes will fall off. Then it is simply a matter of sweeping away any remaining debris,” she said, running her finger along the wainscoting. You shall see…with fresh, clean paint, colorful curtains, and cheerful wildflowers on the table, we will feel quite at home.”
“It will be like visiting the country house!” shouted Duvid with delight.
“It will be better than visiting our dacha—we will be home.” replied Yosef.
In the upcoming months, I will be participating (via Zoom) in two separate book club meetings. Both groups have decided to read and discuss my novel, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey.
To say that I am humbled, delighted, and encouraged doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling. The book was published in 2017; and as an indie author, it goes without saying, the continued show of interest is invaluable. However, for this book in particular, I should not be surprised. Just about a year after its publication, I embarked on a journey of my own. As cliché as it sounds, I was touched by a fairy godmother all of my own. Talk about a show of interest…
I received an email via Goodreads.com. The note was from a woman who had read and enjoyed, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. She went on to explain that a group from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County were in the midst of planning a trip, their so-called “VIP Mission to Argentina.” Stacey Levy introduced herself as the lead chair of the mission and explained that her team of organizers were preparing an exclusive itinerary in this hub of South American Jewish life. They were planning on visiting synagogues and Jewish schools, and meeting with dignitaries and officials to discuss the needs and the experiences of Jewish Argentines. She also wanted to schedule an afternoon Meet & Greet with a Jewish Argentine author.
“Do you happen to know of anyone who’d be interested to meet with us?”
In my naiveté, I wrote back, graciously thanking her for her kind words regarding my book. I offered to contact my relatives in Argentina, in the hopes of finding someone to work with her organization. That is to say, an Argentine author of Jewish fiction, who—by the way— spoke English. Several emails later (Yes! I am that slow), my fairy godmother nearly had to slap me with the plane ticket.
“Your book was hand selected. I am inviting you to come speak to the group.”
To say that I was honored doesn’t even come close. Naturally, I accepted the invitation, but how would I explain it all to my family? A complete stranger was inviting me to go to Argentina. My kids were astounded. Hadn’t I always preached the need for safety and precaution when interacting with people on the internet? Admittedly, I did some research and found that I was dealing with a legitimate person from a well-known organization.
There were a flurry of emails and phone calls to organize the event. I was given the opportunity to suggest a venue, and I immediately proposed meeting in Las Violetas, an iconic café in Buenos Aires. The location is even mentioned in my novel. But the café could not accommodate a group of fifty people, so I suggested Café Tortoni. This legendary establishment has been home to Argentina’s most famous artists, literary giants, journalists and politicians. And I, an unknown indie author, would now be joining in their ranks.
Each participant of the trip would receive a signed copy of my historical fiction. As Stacey said, it would “help provide invaluable insight to Jewish Argentina in a substantive, yet entertaining manner.”
The day of the event finally arrived. I was met at the door by the manager of the café and escorted to a private room. I walked by famous works of art and stained glass, noting the lovely display of treats that had been set out. An Argentine afternoon tea closely resembles what one might expect to find in any British setting. Finger sandwiches and fine, elaborated pastries were presented upon intricate silver trays and delicate china. Of course, there were cookies filled with Dulce de Leche, but I couldn’t touch a bite. I took a seat, next to a life-sized picture of world-renown author, Jorge Borges, and sipped my tea in anticipation. I had yet to meet Stacey in person!
At last, the group arrived. They had completed a tour of Teatro Colon; and after my presentation, they would have just enough time to change before dining with one of the city’s officials. Again, I was taken aback at the magnitude of what was transpiring. The entire episode was surreal. With not a moment to waste, Stacey and I embraced— as if we had known each other our entire lives— and she proceeded with the introductions.
Taking the floor, I was overcome with a sense of calm. The nerves were gone and I was “in the zone.” This moment in time was the exact reason I had written Becoming Malka and Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey. I was given this opportunity, not to gloat or to promote my work, but to elaborate on my own family’s history and Jewish Argentina.
Many participants had had the opportunity to read the novel, but there were others who had not. I explained that my book focuses on the experiences of Jewish immigrants at the end of the nineteenth century and speaks to their struggles and their tremendous achievements. It is thanks in part to these unsung heroes, and the Jewish Colonization Association established by Baron Maurice Hirsch, that the community—la colectividad— flourished. Of course, being an enthusiast of novels set in the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian period, I readily admitted that my story had an Austenesque flair. Nevertheless, it was important for my audience to understand the book’s true purpose. Destiny by Design-Leah’s Journey intentionally pays homage to this particular era and to the immigrant merchants, teachers, tailors, and farmers, who became Jewish gauchos. Afterwards, I was approached by members of the group who eagerly shared their thoughts.
“I loved your presentation!”
“I felt connected with the Jewish gauchos and their descendants after reading your book; more so, than after visiting the synagogues and museums.”
“You painted such a vivid picture—I was right there with you and Leah!”
In a moment that could only be described as supernatural, I felt surrounded by all my ancestors. The bobes and zeides were kvelling. I felt. I knew it. Their voices had been calling out to me. They had carved out a path for us and showed us the true meaning of courage, faith and determination. My books are solely a vehicle to illuminate their work. In preparation for my upcoming events, I will continue to focus on that point.
My trip to Argentina was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Of course, I have been back on numerous occasions (that’s a subject for another book), but this trip was unique. I traveled alone and with a specific agenda. My roots were in the provinces; my ancestors were the founding pioneers of several Jewish colonies. I had the opportunity of visiting these places, of placing stones on graves, of touring their rural synagogues and schools, of meeting people who knew my grandparents in their early days. Every time I am invited to speak, it is an opportunity to honor their memory. It is an opportunity to underscore the importance of what took place in that “New Jerusalem.” I hope my readers enjoy the experience and come away with a new understanding of Jewish Argentina.
There is an adage that states: “Write what you know.” Another axiom urges: “Write the book you wish to read.” That is exactly what set me on this path. I have a penchant for all things Judaic, along with a great passion for period fiction, but I couldn’t find anything to satisfy my cravings for a fusion of these two worlds! There are a few “mash ups” out there- if you look hard enough- but I found most of them to be filled with stereotypical characterizations of the Jewish community. When I did find something of merit, the material was intense, heavy reading. Daniel Deronda comes to mind as a good example. Of course, there is a wealth of dark Fiction and Nonfiction that speaks to the atrocity of anti-Semitism throughout the ages, but I was inspired to shine the light on the Regency period, as well as the Victorian and Edwardian. My own family history of immigration takes place just prior to the Russian Revolution and I wanted to bring attention to the heroic steps taken by Baron Maurice Hirsch, his wife, Baroness Clara, and the Jewish Colonization Association.
My favorite, go-to books speak of the landed gentry, aristocrats and high society. It’s pure escapism, I know; nevertheless, I was inspired to create elegant, successful, philanthropic characters. The Brodskys- the famed Sugar Kings -are a prime example. And no Jewish Historical Fiction worth its weight in tea and kamishbroit can overlook Lady Judith and her husband, Sir Moses Montefiore. I wanted to write about Jewish ladies, fashionably dressed, taking tea in the drawing room of a well-appointed estate. I wanted to present a cultured, well-established family living “Jewishly” in Mother Russia, England, and Argentina. Argentina, you ask? Yes! I wanted to write about the emigration to this “New Jerusalem,” as it speaks to the courage of my own ancestors and countless others who risked everything for the sake of future generations.
There is no denying the horrors of Jewish history. In every era, there are voices that cry out to be heard. My point of view is not to quiet those voices, but to allow others to join in the chorus. It is important to remember the beauty and the joy of our culture. To remember the laughter, the talent and the tenacity of our ancestors. Their goals and achievements should not be forgotten. As Tevye once sang, “To Life! To Life! L’chaim!”